In the aftermath of the terrible earthquake, my heart brims with a terrible sadness and helplessness.
I feel the need to contextualize the terrible news stories with my own little Haitian lovestory, and also to attempt to see Haiti as part of the bigger picture, as a growing piece of a historical and spiritual continuum that allows for both destruction and creation,
I've been fascinated by Haiti ever since I started reading books by the amazing Edwidge Danticat(pictured above) about ten years ago. She is still one of my favorite authors and if you haven't read this:
I highly recommend them for stories that take your breath away, and also heighten historical and political knowledge about her island home.
My love for Haitian culture grew as I learned about Katherine Dunham, the gorgeous "dancing anthrophologist" who studied the rituals of Vodoun (voodoo) in Haiti in the 1930s and eventually developed her own style of African-Caribbean dance known as the Dunham technique that I had the joy to practice in 2006. She and her husband bought land in Port-au-Prince and built botanical gardens and medical facilities around a spring believed to have magical healing properties. Her protected jungle in the middle of the concrete slums of Port-au-Prince has been considered an "endangered" Eden and I have no idea how it has fared this terrible tragedy.
Also, in the 1990s at 82 years old, Katherine Dunham went on a 47 day hunger strike to protest US policies against Haiti!
This was an amazing and inspiring woman, activist, and Haitian scholar and lover.
Filmmaker Maya Deren, another incredible artist and scholar, was in turn inspired by Katherine Dunham's work and the ceremonial rituals of Vodoun. Deren's The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti is an enlightening and fascinating source if you're interested in the spiritual practices of this complex and passionate culture.
So what are all these beautiful women doing here in my Haiti reverie? I wonder the same thing. Why is it that a country founded by violent uprising brings together creative women in some kind of great spiritual and communal endeavor? Why it is that over and over I have been moved to rhapsody by women's work in Haiti, drawn to the stories of their goddesses, their rivers and oceans, mothers and babies, songs, mountains, birds, jungles. I feel that somehow Haiti has a powerful feminine mystery shrouded in her poorly wasted hills and springs, a power of blood and weeping and stories that is woman-born and transferred through the stories and songs and images of women. Despite the dictatorships and the violent uprisings and the massacres and the poverty, I think maybe Haiti is a home for the goddess.
Maybe Haiti is the valley of the serpent, rising.
Edwidge Danticat said two days ago in an interview with DemocracyNow that the damage left by the earthquake "seems like an abyss of a very long and painful history of natural and political disasters." Maybe in a land so scarred, the only hope is creativity and beauty, and that's why right now I am drawn to these women and their legacies.
Danticat took the time to recommend some books and music that people who are interested in Haitian history and arts should seek out in order to place the current disaster in a broader context. (Originally found here)
1. “The Black Jacobins” by C.L.R. James: A groudbreaking account of the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804 that examines that leadership of the rebel commander Toussaint L’Ouverture. Other slave uprisings in the Americas ended in defeat; James looks into why the slave rebellion in Haiti was victorious.
2. “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier,” by Amy Wilentz: This nonfiction book documents the period between 1986-1989 when Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was forced to flee the country and mass strikes, government-sponsored vigilante groups, and other kinds of chaos swept though the streets. The book, which blends current events with cultural history, seeks to detail the society beyond the headlines.
3. “Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy” by Marie Vieux-Chauvet: This triptych of novellas, recently published in English with an introduction by Danticat, was initially suppressed when it was first released in French in 1968 during François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s Haitian reign of terror. The trilogy offers portraits of people struggling to survive dictatorship and oppression. “Hurricanes, earthquakes and drought, nothing spares us,” says the narrator of the first novella, titled “Love.”
4. Boukman Eksperyans: A “mizik rasin” band from Port-au-Prince that combines elements of Haitian Vodou and folk music with rock and roll. First formed in 1987, its albums include “Vodou Adjae.” The group weaves themes of rebellion into its music, and its 1990 song “Kem Pa Sote” was banned on Haitian radio. You can see a video from the band here.
5. Ram: Another mizik rasin group from Port-au-Prince. Formed in 1990, one of the band’s singles, “Fèy” was banned by the military because it was seen as an anthem of support for exiled Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. You can hear the song here.
And of course, you are seeing ways to donate everywhere, from facebook to your cell phone to Etsy to blogs galore, but I will throw in my own two cents and say that researching where your aid is going makes sense to me. Our trusted Edwidge Danticat recommends Dr. Paul Farmer's Partners in Health, the Lambi Fund, and Doctors Without Borders. And of course we must persist with prayer, meditation, visualization, whatever you do to send the good loving spiritual connection of brotherhood and sisterhood to the people of Haiti.